[OPE-L:365] Comments on Chapter 1 of Marx's Capital

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Sun, 29 Oct 1995 14:05:40 -0800

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Some questions that come to mind reading the first chapter of capital.

1. What are we to make of the following passage:
"Diamonds are of very rare occurence on the face of the earth and
hence their discovery costs, on average, a great deal of labour time.
Consequently much labour is represented in a small volume. Jacob
questions whether gold has ever been paid for at full value. This
applies still more to diamonds. According to Eschwege, the total
produce of the Brasilian diamond mines for the 80 years ending in 1823
still did not amount to the price of 1.5 years average produce
of the sugar and coffee plantations of the same country, although
the diamonds represent much more labour, therefore more value."
(P130 in the Fernbach translation).

Do we conclude that gold and diamonds systematically sell below their

If so why, and what does this imply for the theory of gold as the
universal equivalent.

2. "The different proportions in which different sorts of labour
are reduced to unskilled labour as their standard are established
by a process that goes on behind the backs of the producers, and,
consequently, appears to be fixed by custom." P44 Moscow edition.

Our study of the correlation between values and prices in the UK,
(Capital and Class, Spring 95) showed that the correlation between
prices and the wage content of commodities was higher than that
between prices and the labour content of the commodities in hours.
The latter can be obtained by using information on industry by
industry wage rates to suplement the data in the I/O tables.
This either indicates that the above passage is right and that
the workers in industries with low wages actually created less
value per hour. Or, alternatively we can say that the above passage
gets it the wrong way round.

First custom determines relative wage rates - that women get paid
less for instance - then, assuming that the underlying process
by which the law of value operates under capitalism involves
the intermediary step of labour being represented as wages, the
lower wages result in the prices of the industries employing low
waged workers to falling below their labour contents.

Do women create less value per second, or do they just appear
to because they are paid less?

I would suggest the latter. What set of observations if any could
resolve the question?

3. "On the one hand all labour is, speaking physiologically
an expenditure of human labour-power, and in its character
of identical abstract human labour, it creates and forms the
value of commodities. " (p46 Moscow edition)

This appears to indicate that Marx thought abstract value creating
labour is not specific to a given mode of production. I tend to
think this too.

With respect to question 1, does anyone know if current data
from south africa could back up the assertion that gold and
diamonds have an exchange value lower than their labour content
would justify?